Scripture Commentary: Ishopanishad 1.1

December 17, 2014    BY Isabelle Glover

Scripture

Whatever moves in the moving world is permeated, covered, and clothed by the Lord.
By letting go you may protect yourself.
Enjoy. Do not covet. To whom does wealth belong?
—Ishopanishad 1.1

Īshāvāsyam-idam sarvam yat kiñca jagatyām jagat
Tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasya svid-dhanam.

Commentary

The words jagatyam jagat use a simple Sanskrit verb of movement in a particular form, which infuses the verb with desire—the desire to move. All creation is moving: the apparently static oak swirls with atoms; metals creep; the universe expands continuously. And all this movement is infused by the desire of creation itself to create.

Krishna speaks of this desire in the Bhagavad Gita (3.36) when Arjuna asks him, “What compels us to continually fail to live in the moment?” Krishna replies, “It is desire; as fire is veiled by smoke or a mirror by dust, as a fetus is covered by a placenta, so is this world of activities covered by desire.”

Do not covet or yearn to keep what is not yours. Let it go, be free. Enjoy. Desire belongs to the moving creation, which is permeated, covered, and clothed by the presence of the Lord.

This verse, like all of scripture, illuminates the true nature of things. Our everyday world vibrates with infused desire, whether we can feel it or not; that’s what creation means. When we desire material objects, opinions, emotions—both positive and negative—we long for things to be a certain way. Letting go of those attachments is hard, but eventually we outgrow them and move on.

I live opposite a monastery with a large abbey church and love to share in the daily monastic prayer and meditate in the hallowed space. Since my husband died, I have grown to depend upon—and have become attached to—this way of life with its daily routine and the spiritual nourishment it provides.

Just recently the monastery has been at the center of serious abuse scandals, with one monk already serving a prison sentence. As with all shocks, the appalling horror of abuse within a praying community has sent me into agitation overdrive. My desire for true peace and security has no home in which to settle; I feel like I’m lost in a tumultuous fog.

As the fetus is covered and protected by a placenta until nature demands that the mother let it go, so it is time for me to let go of my desire to hold on to what I had imagined to be secure and permanent. I mourn for the abused, I mourn for my friendly monks. Grief takes time and patience, but I cannot long for a past that does not exist and that was never mine.

I am starting again, sharing in the monastic prayer, meditating in the hallowed space, not because it is in any way peaceful and secure, but because that is how my heart is learning to open to whatever, whenever.

Translation and commentary by Isabelle Glover, Sanskrit teacher and scholar, Christian, and student of contemplative scripture.